Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Otago researchers lead multi-million dollar Antarctic research projects

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Miles-Lamare-image
Associate Professor Miles Lamare (left) and colleague Dr Antonio Garcia inspect sea stars at Scott Base, Antarctica, prior to their transport to Otago. The sea stars are used as model organisms in experiments on the physiological responses of polar species to climate change.

A world-leading Antarctic project investigating how ecosystems in the Ross Sea region might respond to climate change is to be led by Otago’s Associate Professor Miles Lamare.

Associate Professor Lamare was invited to lead the six-year, $10M project, which will focus on the drivers of species distribution in this biologically productive area of Antarctica which includes the world’s largest marine protected area.

"The really exciting thing is that this world-leading programme is led by New Zealand, and this particular project is being led by Otago which is great recognition."

The research is part of a larger MBIE funded Antarctic Science Platform which has the purpose of conducting excellent science to understand the large scale impacts of warming in the Antarctic and its impact on the global earth system.

Associate Professor Lamare says any future changes to ecosystems in the Ross Sea will have important biological implications such as species distribution, and all of the research will feed the development of sophisticated biogeographical models.

The Department of Marine Science researcher has been involved with the US Antarctic Program since 1994, and the New Zealand Antarctic programme since 2002. He says it’s an absolute honour to be leading this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

“The really exciting thing is that this world-leading programme is led by New Zealand, and this particular project is being led by Otago which is great recognition.

“It also reinforces and recognises the University’s leadership and the contribution it makes to climate change research on a global scale. Other international programmes are taking note of our novel approach to understanding change.”

With 30 named New Zealand researchers and a focus on interdisciplinary and international collaboration to address complex questions, Associate Professor Lamare has spent this year developing a cohesive plan for the next five-year research period.

“We have brought together scientists who haven’t worked closely together previously which has been challenging but exciting, and has involved many great around-the-table conversations.

“Collaboration opens the door to undertaking parallel studies in different locations, which extends our ability to understand and model how the Ross Sea region as a whole is changing.”

"Collaboration opens the door to undertaking parallel studies in different locations, which extends our ability to understand and model how the Ross Sea region as a whole is changing."

Associate Professor Lamare says this project will facilitate new and innovative research, allowing the development of important baseline information against which future change can be assessed.

“We have the opportunity to engage in innovative research using tools such as environmental DNA in water sampling that will operate autonomously over the winter months when we don’t have access to region.”

Another plan is to deploy a sea ice capable vessel for a biological research expedition in the 2022 field season to access regions of the Ross Sea never previously sampled.

He says initiatives such as this have the potential to exponentially increase understanding of biodiversity and species distributions, and no doubt discover species new to science.

Over 20 Otago researchers are contributing to the four major Antarctic Science Platform projects announced this year, including Paleoceanographer Dr Christina Riesselman who is co-leading a NIWA led project to study the impacts of change in the Antarctic atmosphere and Southern Ocean.

Associate Professor Lamare adds the University’s support of the multidisciplinary Polar Environment Research Theme has allowed him the opportunity to work in this space including time spent in Antarctica.

Major Antarctic field expeditions for the Ross Sea ecosystem project will begin in the next Antarctic summer research season (2020/2021).